Silent Death: The Drowning Girl

“HEY, HEY!”   I was shouting at my son. “Help that little girl!” The mighty Columbia River was silently culling it’s prey.

Water has always had a piece of my soul. The first time I found myself floundering was in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Head tipped back and toes barely touching the bottom as the next kid went down the slide, swam past me, and then another. Finally, gasping and knowing that I’d had a close one, my hands grasp the rough concrete edge of the pool.

The reservoir North of Casper also made several passes at me. Each time, trembling from exertion, wanting to cry, I promised myself not to go so far next time. Before I turned twelve, 2 of my friends met the Grim Reaper in that very water.

Turtle Creek reservoir in Kansas wanted young meat for the larger fish to nibble on in the depths under the frozen surface of winter and it drew me seductively past my abilities. Again, I made it passed death’s grasp.

Strangely and in my own mind I wondered how no one ever seemed to notice, no one seemed to care. Every single time was a little boy’s silent battle for life. Each close call caused a deep internal sobbing, less now from proximity to death and more that no one seemed to care. As a young child I became comfortably close to death in my casual thoughts. Dreams of death from falling was as common as any child but drowning haunted my dreams. Pictures of water, no mater how peaceful, gave fuel to a mind determined to slip thoughts of a slowly sinking victim giving their soul to Davey Jones.

It is the silence that haunted me the most. Was I wanting to die? Was I too lazy to call out? My dreams of drowning were so common that eventually I found myself enjoying the call. Drowning… what a nice way to die.

Later in life while canoeing I’d find myself half halfheartedly enjoying the capsize, wondering if this was my final ride. Smiling to myself sitting on the shore I’d talk quietly to the river. “Not this time my friend.”

Enter the Reader’s Digest. They had an article about drowning and how the drowning person falls silent, conserving energy and drowns passively among the other swimmers rather than the thrashing and screaming seen in movies. Yup, it’s just like that I thought. With pictures and description, the Reader’s Digest laid the most private of my near drowning experiences convincingly bare to the reader.

Some years later I was walking with the family along the river where families were splashing in the water and lounging on the grassy slope designed by U.S. Corp of Engineers. I walked out onto the dock with my wife and the dog and was coaxing the dog to jump off the dock to retrieve a stick.

Thank God for the Reader’s Digest! My eye spotted and brought my attention to the girl. I paused for a few seconds to confirm. I felt her posture, quiet then loud as the waves from passing boats covered her ears then off. “HEY, HEY!! Help her! I pointed directly at the girl. While my son was trying to comprehend my yelling, her dad lunged into the water and grabbed her up, pulling her out.

“What happened” he was asking. She collapsed crying into his arms and began the panic-relief sobbing that follows near death from drowning.

She was slowly and torturously drowning surrounded by friends and family. I wonder if she occasionally questions that no one seemed to care, why didn’t anyone notice? Well, maybe not. Someone did notice.

We walked on, her memory burned into my mind. I’ve had no drowning dreams since.

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9 thoughts on “Silent Death: The Drowning Girl

    1. Thank you Jeff, I will figure out how to do that.
      Have you stumbled across Duke Miller at Tin Hats? He sure writes some beautiful and dark stories. One of his stories mentioned swimming in the ocean at night in the darkness. It caused me to think of these memories.

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  1. I’ve noticed the same thing although I was not the one to notice (I was studiously watching my own children on the shallows) my husband all of a sudden took off and jumped into the river and pulled a small girl who was quiet as a mouse to the shore where her I’m assuming father scooped her up while she coughed a gallon of water from her lungs. People really should be properly instructed on how a person actually looks when drowning

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  2. This hit home… Even after dying with head traumas, my haunt has been with drowning… Because of this, I have never entered the water deep enough to learn to swim… The irony is my meditative “safe place” is sitting in a small natural pool immersed under a gentle waterfall where the water is not wet… The last few years have given me the experience for visiting past life memories…. Now I know the haunt of drowning is an everlasting part of me… It is my caution for this time around and will always be present… The lesson here for me is that it can be insidious with its beckoning and the gentle way it happens…. When the feeling of drowning becomes evident, attention must be paid to avoid the “swimming through the peanut butter” and being overwhelmed….thank you for this reminder…

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  3. Hi Convert,

    I have begun to read you because you are a writer and not somebody trying to push religion or sell an electric drill. It seems the writing is enough for you and perhaps you are driven by the mortality of it all. So I’m reading the Drowning Girl story and as I went along I thought, the Convert is digging deeper into the thinking of death, those last moments so well documented, yet ignored by the healthy, the living. Yes, this is what I’m talking about, this is the way it should be, pushing ourselves into some kind of ecstatic place. I call it a rising of the heart. Then I see you mention the sea at night swimming adventure. Perhaps we share a feeling of catharsis or therapy in what we say. Don’t know. But I do believe that the more authentic and revealing words are, the better it is for all concerned. Hope you had a chance to read the Brautigan. Also, there is a sense of Catch 22 in the Jewish story. Okay, backward and downward, it is the best place to be. Thanks. Duke

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  4. Thank you Linda, I’m glad you liked it.
    These kind of stories are a bit more real. A little hard to write, maybe because these types of experiences are meaningful and foundational rather than flippant.
    Like in racing where the ability to slow down is your ticket to speed, so seems my ability to relate to death is my ticket to life.
    Woah, that was philosophical. I should write that down!

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